Fil-Ams doubt ‘clean and fair’ RP polls, ask US gov’t to send observers
By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
WASHINGTON D.C.—Expressing concerns that the general elections in the Philippines this coming May will be “clean, fair and credible”, a Filipino-American delegation has asked the US government to send a team to observe the polls, which is also geared to become the country’s first nationwide automated elections.
The 7-member delegation, led by lawyer and business leader Loida Nicolas Lewis, met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on March 10 to voice doubts that the coming elections will run smoothly.
Lewis asked Clinton to “recommend to President Barack Obama to send an observer team similar to that headed by US Sen. Richard Lugar in the 1986 Philippine Snap Presidential Elections.”
Senator Lugar, still a ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, had led a team composed of incumbent Sen. John Kerry, now the current chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and some 30 others who observed the elections ordered by then President Ferdinand Marcos.
The team reported widespread cheating, fraud and abuse during those elections.
In an audience with Clinton in the U.S. State Department for over two hours, Lewis, a New York-based philanthropist who used to own a food and beverage conglomerate, said the energy crisis in the Philippines could imperil the conduct of the first automated elections.
Lewis told Clinton that in the possibility of a failure of elections, the Philippine government may place the entire country under a “state of emergency” based on media reports.
Clinton commented that she will take the group’s concerns “very seriously.”
The top State Dept. official likewise ordered deputy chief of staff for foreign relations Jake Sullivan to further look into the group’s concerns.
The Philippine government is set to automate its national elections for the first time, using the system owned by Smartmatic Corporation, a Florida-based software electronic voting machine manufacturer allegedly partly-owned by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
‘Erratic, unreliable’ pilot tests
Lewis also presented a letter from “concerned Filipino-Americans” in the US that claimed “pilot tests of this automated election system’s precinct count optical scanners (PCOS) are erratic and unreliable.”
“The system can only be operated by Smartmatic employees and there is not enough time to train all the Commission on Elections (Comelec) personnel, and public school teachers, who are deputized poll workers,” she added.
Lewis also said clustering precincts into one polling place with just one PCOS machine could invite “confusion, overcrowding, and voter disenfranchisement.”
The petitioners likewise expressed concerns that Smartmatic has disabled the machine’s ultra-violet ray reader of each ballot’s barcode.
“In so doing, it removed the safeguard and protective measures against multiple counting of the same ballot resulting (in) cheating and possible vote padding,” they said.
‘Politicizing’ the military
The two-page petition also scored President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for “politicizing” the Philippine military by appointing only the members of the Philippine Military Academy’s Class of 1978, of which she is an honorary member, to top positions of the various branches of the Armed Forces.
It added most of Arroyo’s cabinet members are retired military officers.
“In the 2004 presidential elections, it has been reported that the military was behind the scandal that fraudulently padded the votes in favor of Mrs. Arroyo,” the petition stated, adding that fraud in some areas was “done in concert” with the Ampatuans of Maguindanao who are now on trial for the massacre of 57 people, including 31 journalists.
In case of failure of elections in the presidency and vice presidency, and if Arroyo wins in the House of Representatives and becomes the Speaker of the House, she would become the likely candidate to become acting President, the group further said.
When asked who will benefit from the failure of elections, Lewis said, “the sitting President,” referring to Arroyo.
The group thus urged Clinton to send an observer team to ensure that the elections will be “independent and credible”.—JMA/JV, GMANews.TV